Emperor Tenmu Becomes a God | History of Japan 24


If you just won a huge war and held more power
than anyone else in the country, what would you do? Would you sit back and enjoy the spoils? Would you change the country for the better? Emperor Tenmu found himself in this position,
and he chose to become a god. Tenmu defeated his nephew, Prince Otomo, in
the Jinshin Civil War. The Jinshin War was like this YouTube channel,
it was important and transformative, but it doesn’t get enough credit. Tenmu’s win allowed him and his successors
to transform the limited Yamato court into an Imperial Japan, paving the way for a strong
central government. Tenmu milked his victory like one milks an
almond. Does that make sense? Who cares. He made room for his allies in the new government
by executing and exiling his nephew’s allies. Occupying the very tippy top of the government
were his consort, the future Empress Jito, and his sons. It became a court ruled by Tenmu’s branch
of the Imperial Family. Tenmu also brought back the Kabane titles
of nobility. Prince Shotoku had taken steps to phase out
the Kabane system years before. In the old system, there were dozens of titles,
the highest being omi and muraji. The strongest clan leaders hung out at these
top two levels. The omi and muraji titles survived Shotoku’s
reforms, allowing the influential clan leaders to stay in power. Tenmu brought back the kabane system, but
he was a devious dude, so he reformed it to his benefit. Tenmu reduced it to 8 ranks, but he put omi
and muraji near the bottom. The top titles went to Tenmu’s allies during
the war and the clans that supported him. You would think this would have made the omi
and muraji leaders resentful, and it did. But it would have been worse if he had removed
the omi and muraji titles altogether. Although these titles were no longer as influential,
because they had been in effect for so long, they still held prestige. It’s like being class president. It sounds cool, but you just end up choosing
what kind of toilet paper goes in the school restrooms. One ply or half ply. Tenmu’s change allowed the old elites to
keep their prestigious titles, while creating a new class of elites, friendly to him. Tenmu attained more power than the emperors
before him. With this power, Emperor Tenmu decided to
do something that was either genius or massively egotistical, probably both. He decided it would be fun to be a god. If you could ask Tenmu why he did what he
did, he’d probably tell you it was for the good of Japan, and it would be hard to argue
with that. At the time, the shadow of Silla hovered over
the Japanese archipelago. Silla had taken control of the Korean Peninsula. If they had chosen to invade, Japan, with
no unified army, would have been in trouble. From his experience in the Jinshin War, Tenmu
knew what a hassle it was to go to each regional clan chieftain to muster troops for an adequate
army. Tenmu made reforms to strengthen the central
government, following in the footsteps of previous reformers like Shotoku and Tenji. He made military changes like creating Imperial
armies around the capital and at strategic regions, making chieftains military commanders
for the court, and improving roads so troops can move about freely. Tenmu pushed for the governmental changes
that we talked about earlier to build a unified state that could combat foreign threats. He used China as a model for his reforms,
like his predecessors. He also looked at the governments of the Korean
kingdoms to figure out what to do and what not to do. To put it in simple fifth grade terms, the
Paekche king didn’t listen enough to his ministers, and the Koguryo king listened too
much. Silla’s government was in-between. The king was strong, but so were his ministers. The throne made decisions after ample discussion
with his court. Tenmu liked that model. It obviously worked because Silla was victorious. So how and why did Tenmu make himself a god? Remember that religion and superstition permeated
people’s lives back then. Religious power led to secular power. Tenmu made the Ise Grand Shrine the most important
shrine and dictated that an Imperial princess must always be at the Ise shrine to worship
the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. He placed the Sun Goddess above all other
kami. It was the Imperial House’s ancestral kami. He and his successor Empress Jito commissioned
the creation of the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki, the oldest Japanese historical texts that
survived to the modern day. There was a lot of propaganda in these texts,
let’s be honest. The writers often engaged in a writing technique
called, um, making sh–t up. The claim that the Imperial house can trace
its ancestry back to the Sun Goddess is found in these works. The texts legitimized the Japanese emperor
by proclaiming that he had divine blood, making him a divine being. They created a whole line of emperors at the
beginning to link the emperors to the Sun Goddess. The texts also legitimized Emperor Tenmu himself
by portraying him as the good guy in the Jinshin War. Not saying he wasn’t a good guy, but there
is only one side of the story, one very friendly side. After Tenmu’s death, his consort took the
throne as Empress Jito. By that time, Tenmu, Jito, and their offsprings
were already being called living kami, descendants of the Sun Goddess. It was either Tenmu or Jito that started using
the term tenno to refer to the emperor. Tenno means heavenly king. This is usually translated as emperor in English. They then retroactively used tenno for all
previous emperors. The Japanese went further than China in its
veneration of the emperor. In China, the emperor had the Mandate of Heaven. Not to be confused with the Man Date In Heaven,
which is just having a good time at the most famous gay club in London. The Mandate did not mean the Chinese emperor
was a god. It was a divine right to rule granted to a
mortal by Heaven. The Japanese were like, “Oh yeah? Our emperor’s not even mortal. He is a god, a descendant of Amaterasu.” I’d like to thank the two new patrons Tercero
and Spencer Smith, welcome guys. We also have a second Emperor patron now,
Trevor Glisan. Thank you so much Trevor, it means a lot. It’s weird though, having two emperors doesn’t
make sense. I think they have to fight to the death now,
pretty sure that’s how it works. Good luck, love you guys.

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